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Protesters march in Washington, DC, during the Womens March on January 21, 2017 (Robyn BECK Getty Images)


Pro-life advocate says women’s movement’s abortion stance alienates majority of women in America

By Emma-Louise Boynton on February 28, 2017

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times, longtime anti-choice advocate Lauren Enriquez has criticized the “new feminist resistance movement” embodied by the recent Women’s March on Washington. While the march claimed to speak “for all women in general” she argues, its so-called “radical” position on abortion necessarily excluded a vast swathe of America’s female population — more than half, she says according to the latest survey by Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll. In the pollsters’ latest annual survey on abortion views in America, they found that more than half of all women want to see more restrictions on abortion.

For Enriquez, this position is not just a “policy stance;” it shapes how many women see and live their lives. As such, the controversial decision on behalf of the Women’s March organizers — to remove a prominent pro-life group from its official list of partners — was decidedly misguided and undermined efforts to create a new and expansive women’s movement, she argues. Rejecting the media’s portrayal that the pro-abortion movement is “normal”, Enrique contends that anti-abortion women reject the version of “feminism” that, she says, implies that equality between the sexes is reliant upon reproductive choice.

However, while Enriquez unquestionably gives voice to a significant group of American women who feel sidelined by the march because of their beliefs on abortion, the data she extrapolates from the Knights of Columbus/Marist poll highlights only one among many varying positions reflected in their findings. While the data does indeed show a higher proportion of women (30 percent) want to see the introduction of more restrictions on abortion — specifically, the poll found majority support for the suggestion that “abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother” — it also shows that a higher proportion of women (55 percent) identify as “pro-choice.”

(Knights of Columbus/Marist poll)
(Knights of Columbus/Marist poll)

That the data reveals these two seemingly contrasting positions is not altogether that surprising given the deep ambivalence people generally feel about this specific issue. Where opinions on most social issues, such as gay marriage, have moved steadily in one direction over the years, Americans’ positions on abortion have not. According to the research firm Gallup, which has asked the same question on abortion every year since 1995 — “Do you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances? — people’s responses have fluctuated marginally both ways, highlighting how deeply conflicted the population remains regarding this issue. What this tends to imply is that the answers elicited from the public around this topic tend to vary in apparently contradictory ways depending on the question asked.

Nonetheless, the Knights of Columbus/Marist poll finding that the majority of the public is “pro-choice” is corroborated by a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Pew found that, more than four decades after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, support for abortion is at an all-time high, with 59 percent of all adults agreeing that it should be legal in all or most cases.

Both sides of the abortion debate can thus often extrapolate, correctly, from research like the Knights of Columbus/Marist poll findings that specifically support and forward their position, as Enriquez has done. What then is perhaps most compelling about the way she has employed the data here is in the broader point she uses it to make about what is needed of the new feminist movement we see developing post-March. She argues that if this movement wants to “speak for me as a woman” then it must “be broad enough to take my firm beliefs, and accept them as mainstream,” thereby raising an existential question for the women’s movement: Is it possible, even conceivable, for a cohesive feminist movement to emerge that is able to embrace both sides of this contentious debate?

Speaking at the Women in the World’s D.C. Salon earlier this month, march organizer Tamika Mallory suggested the answer to that question is “no.” Since the anti-abortion movement was specifically intent on restricting reproductive freedoms and raising money to tear down the work of pro-choice campaigners, the two sides simply could not work together she contended. “If you are pro-life, you are anti-choice” Mallory argued. “You are a danger to my existence. If you don’t like the fact that we are pro-choice,” she concluded, “then have a nice day.”

As anti-choice advocates are bolstered by support from the Trump administration these tensions are only likely to grow deeper and what an inclusive women’s movement looks like from here remains up for debate. Below, watch the full discussion from our D.C. Salon about what’s next for the Women’s March.


Read Enriquez’s full Op-Ed at The New York Times.


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